News & Feature Articles Written About People & Places in Lake County, Ohio            

Nature vacations in Lake County, Ohio's Holden Arboretum
By Regis Behe
Sunday, August 10, 2003

By name alone, Lake County, Ohio, evokes images of beaches, swimming and sun.
Those recreations are available in the small county that borders Lake Erie about 20 miles east of Cleveland, and is less than three hours from Pittsburgh. But there's more to do than get a tan and frolic in the surf.

Start off by thinking green. Call it ecotourism or pastoral pastimes, the region is filled with attractions that are friendly to the environment and don't require standing in lines for high-flying rides that are over in seconds.

Lake County's emerald-colored gem is Holden Arboretum, a nature preserve located in Kirtland. Featuring stunning vistas and areas of quiet, contemplative beauty, the arboretum is the largest in the United States, and one of the largest in the world, with more than 6,000 varieties of plants and trees and spread over 3,446 acres.

Curators call it an "outdoor tree museum," where cedars of Lebanon, Ponderosa pines, paw paw trees and Japanese tree lilacs are among the species on the grounds. Two senior citizens -- a 375-year-old white oak, and a red oak that's estimated to be 275 years old -- are must-see attractions. The arboretum is also involved in a project that is attempting to regenerate American chestnut trees, which were ravaged by blight in the first half of the 20th century.

Just outside the site's visitor center is the new Butterfly Garden, which is aflutter with the winged creatures in late summer through early September. A short walk away is the Display Garden, which features lilacs and viburnums; during the summer months 800 varieties of various perennials bloom.

Within the Display Garden is the Hedge Garden. Showcasing 27 different hedge varieties ranging from 2 to 8 feet in height, the thickets are pruned and cut to show hedge enthusiasts proper maintenance techniques.

Because Lake County is on the same latitude with China, there are a number of Asian plant varieties on the grounds, including Butterfly bushes , Japanese pagoda trees and golden rain trees. Scattered throughout the grounds are 26 man-made ponds that are aesthetically pleasing and used for studying various ecosystems. The Blueberry Pond is one of the most aromatic areas at Holden due to the sweet bay magnolias that are nearby.

In August and September, the Prairie Garden area is in full bloom. And September through October is spectacular at the arboretum, with a special trail for tree identification and leaf collecting. Free tours of "Holden Highlights" are available at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays from Sept. 13 through October.

There's so much to see on the grounds that it's almost impossible to take in during a single visit. For those who are adventurous and have the time, the best way to see Holden Arboretum is via the 20 miles of walking trails that meander through the grounds. Visitors with less time or with health problems might want to try the guided tram tours that are available.

But however one traverses the park, make sure to breathe deeply; there are so many fresh, aromatic plants and flowers that Holden Arboretum is just as much an olfactory pleasure as it is visual delight.

Other Lake County attractions

Headlands Beach State Park, Mentor. This mile-long stretch of sand on Lake Erie is Ohio's longest natural beach, and one of it's most scenic with a block-style lighthouse that sits at its eastern edge. Sunbathing available, Headlands is rustic and maintained in a natural state. It's also home to a variety of plant species -- including beach pea, sea rocket and crown vetch -- that are commonly found along the Atlantic coast. But due to glacial conditions and the presence of Headland Dunes Nature Preserve within the state park boundaries, these plants thrive miles from their natural East Coast habitat. Ducks, geese, deer and fox inhabit the area, and Headlands beach is a prime spot for spotting migrating birds and monarch butterflies. Hours: One half hour before sunrise to one half hour after sunset, year round. Free.
Details: (440) 257-1331 or online.

Mentor Lagoon Nature Preserve and Marina, 8635 Harbor Drive, Mentor. A city-owned facility that is free to the public, Mentor Lagoon Nature Preserve is a 450-acre site. The preserve has 1.5 miles of Lake Erie shoreline that features rare dune plants, a riverine marsh and a large forest bluff area. Teeming with wildlife, the preserve serves as a breeding ground for waterfowl, and provides an important rest area -- and prime birdwatching spot -- for migratory species crossing Lake Erie during the spring and fall. The marina offers spaces for boats up to 50 feet in length. Transient docking is available for a fee. Hours: Sunrise to sunset, year-round. Free.
Details: (404) 205-3625 or online.

Regis Behe can be reached at or (412)320-7990.

click to enlarge

The new Arlene and Arthur S. Holden Butterfly Garden
Ian Adams/ The Holden Arboretum

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Late summer sun brings out the color in the butterfly garden.
Ian Adams/ The Holden Arboretum

Holden Arboretum
9500 Sperry Road, Kirtland, Ohio.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.

Admission: $4; $3 for senior citizens; $2 for children 6 to 15; free to children under six.

Directions: The Holden Arboretum is in Kirtland, Ohio, approximately 125 miles from Pittsburgh. From the Pennsylvania Turnpike, drive west to the Ohio Turnpike. Take Ohio Exit 44, and keep left. Turn left on to Ohio route 44, then turn left onto Washington Street (Cr-606), then turn right on Auburn Road (CR-4). Make a slight left at Mentor Road (CR-5), then left on Wisner Road. Turn right onto Mitchells Mills Road, which takes you to Sperry Road and the Holden Arboretum.

Details: (440) 946-4400, or